Mrs. Olaitan Olabanke is a cocoa farmer in Atakumosa West Local Government Area of Osun State. Her farm is at Ibodi area. Cocoa farming has enabled her and her family to build a home and educate their children.
Cocoa is a big business supporting households in Osu, in Osun State. Currently, the industry contributes about 70 per cent to the gross domestic product of the area. The area has been known for the production of cocoa, and kola nut. For them, the value and volume of cocoa per unit of cultivation is higher than arable crops. Its value chain encompasses many activities that can benefit Nigerian and drive socio-economic growth.
The Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Atakumosa West Local Government Area, Chief Otemuyiwa Olusoji, is one of the major cocoa famers in Osu. He has been in the business for more than 25 years. He farms on more than 20 hectares.
Speaking during a rapid rural appraisal survey conducted by postgraduates of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Ibadan, under the auspices of the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) in the area, Olusoji said cocoa farming was important and constituted the main stay of the area. Income from cocoa, he noted, enables families to pay for their basic commodities, medicines and schooling for their children.
He said there are opportunities that farmers could take advantage of, adding that the key to the success of cocoa, in domestic and international markets, is in the quality of the beans and the workers who produce them.
One of the farmers, Olaitan Muyiwa, said there is much profit in cocoa farming, adding that cocoa plays an important role in generating employment and improving livelihood of farmers and exporters. He said the industry’s potential is immense.
He said the cost of seedlings and labour determined the profitability of the business. The other challenge is that a few of the farmers don’t have access to improved cocoa hybrid. The improved variety matures in 22 months and produces good yields.
To Olasunkanmi Biola, Osu is one of the nation’s producers of cocoa beans. He farms on his five acres.
He said most farmers owned a few hectares and that he had not been able to expand his acreage.
The challenge is capital to purchase improved varieties. He said they were working against a trend where young people were abandoning the farms for jobs in the city.
He said the farmers wanted the Federal Government to provide them with material input, such as seeds, fertiliser, tools and technical assistance to grow cocoa profitably. He said the farmers should be educated on standard on cocoa preparation to prevent rejection at the international market.
He said lack of land, due to the tenure system and land grabbing, caused by illegal gold mining, was making it difficult for people to make a living from the farm.
He explained that cocoa farming was being hampered by non-availability of facilities for processing. Food processing reduces losses.
He urged the government to invest money, especially to improve storage, and support entrepreneurs with loans to acquire equipment. This will discourage the export of raw materials without adding value.
The role of APRA Team
Beyond helping cocoa growers get a better deal, the team pushed for dialogue between farmers and the community.
By walking farmers through every step of the supply chain, the team attempted to demysyify the industry for farmers.
The Principal Investigator/Country lead, APRA, Dr Adeola Olajide, said the study intended to highlight the potential of cocoa farming and sought the government’s support to improve income and household food security, through farming.
She said Osu was an example of a cocoa community with potential to help the Federal Government earn foreign exchange. According to her, the industry needs to be revitalised through policy interventions, noting that the aim of the survey was to canvass policy reform to rejuvenate the slumping industry.
This hs become necessary because the crisis in the sector has made most farmers almost hopeless about the future of the industry.
Dr. Olajide said there must be a consistent policy to ensure farmers improved agronomical practices, disease and pest control and value addition to sustain the cocoa industry.
She said the survey was designed to stimulate new ideas and opportunities in the industry as well. To her, the links between cocoa production and processing offer potential for multiplier effects on the economy.
To boost cocoa production, she said the community needs to be supported with services, seeds, marketing, training, extension and assistance for monitoring and evaluation.
She sees the big potential of the industry in Osu and other parts of the country and wants, through the study, to encourage local producers to expand their production.
She said the goal of APRA is to use scientific evidence to inform policy decision making, adding it was crucial to speed up agricultural transformation.
A member of the Research team, Dr Kehinde Adesina Thomas, said farmers’ experiences highlighted the need to support them in the area.
According to him, severe economic crisis is opening space for agriculture as new opportunity, adding the government needs to work with farmers to encourage those seeking to build a decent future on the land.
He said the purpose of the survey is to connect with the rural people, find market opportunities and work with the government through policy advocacy to drive cocoa farming based on sustainable production.
He said the farmers need support to purchase insecticides and carry out mass spraying of the farms as a measure to increased output.
Illegal gold mining
as a threat
The industry in Atakumosa West Local Government Area is under threat. The area is facing a crisis around illegal mining, which experts warn could derail the agriculture sector. The Nation learnt that the activities of illegal gold miners is affecting cocoa farmers in the area.
Water coming from the excavation site is taking toll on many small holder farmers.This is because the contaminated water flows through the farms and depletes soil productivity. Farmers are abandoning their farms as miners excavate and pump contaminated waters and chemicals into the soil.
Some of the farms are spoiled due to the claim by miners that gold is underneath the soil. Some farmers lost some of their cocoa trees. They were destroyed when an excavator on the hunt for gold left dangerous and piles of deep pits and clay throughout the once fertile land. He has seen the land he worked to harvest mine illegally, a practice called “galamsey” and experts say it could lead to a decline in cocoa supply.
Many farmers have lost their yields to the chemical impact of excavation which causes water to flow unchecked into farms. According to them, illegal mining has poisoned farms with heavy metals and chemicals.
Olusoji said the local government area was of significant historical importance to cocoa production, as such, the government must do everything possible to protect farm lands from herders and illegal mining operations which leaves massive pits where cocoa trees stood. Such activities pollute water bodies which the communities rely on.
He sees cocoa as the wellspring of life in the area that must be look after forever.
According to him, mining around the farms add injury to an already- volatile industry. Farmers grapple with unstable weather patterns, crop diseases and aging less productive trees.
While The Nation could not get the actual number of farms affected by illegal mining, experts believe there are a significant number.
At a stakeholders engagement forum held at the local government secretariat, the Head of the Department of Agriculture, Atakumosa West Local Government Area, Ajayi Ademola, said illegal gold mining had exposed Osu community to exploitation, pollution and encroachment on farms.
According to him, herders and illegal miners are making farming unhealthy while the area was becoming improverished.
The Chairman, Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Atakumosa West Local Government Area, Mr Elijah Ogunmleye, said the fight against the illegal practice was important. Due to the complicated land ownership issues, stakeholders believe cocoa farmers do not have the ability to stop mining.
Although there is a lot of profits from illegal mining, Thomas called for a stop to it.
According to him, if the cocoa farms are not left alone, it may have severe consequences on the foreign exchange earning capacity and further reduce the contribution of agriculture to the GDP.
Thomas said there was a need to create a peaceful environment for cocoa farmers and license gold miners. He urged the government to balance the economic boon of small-scale mining with environmental and safety protections to ensure the survival of the cocoa farmers.
The Divisional Police Officer, Atakumosa West Local Government Area, Chief Superintendent, Afolalaranmi Omotayo, said the command would ensure a peaceful co-existence between citizens and licensed firms.
Stakeholders are counting on the robust industry to help improve Nigeria’s foreign exchange earning, saying the sector has the potential to help diversify the country’s exports and boost its self-reliance drive the challenge in the sector.
For Olajide, the prospect of the industry is the promise given by the government to curb illegal miners.
She emphasised that there must be a comprehensive industrial strategy to enable agri-business, manufacturing and service firms to upgrade, thrive, and become catalysts and engines for sustained and inclusive growth.
Thomas said the sector needs a research-oriented sustainable cocoa production, including the use of mechanisation and hi-tech applications in production.
He said the study aims to make cocoa farming a more profitable and sustainable livelihood for many dependent communities. The plan, according to him, is to create for farmers viable incomes that will help maintain farming as a thriving industry, creating and sustaining jobs in rural areas.
APRA Project involves Michigan State University, University of Ibadan and the Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom. The project, which started in 2016, is expected to be concluded in 2021.
APRA is a five-year research programme, which builds on more than a decade of research and policy, engagement work by Future Agricultures Consortium.
The aim of the project is to produce new information and insights into different pathways to agricultural commercialisation in order to assess their impacts and outcomes on rural poverty, empowerment of women and girls and food and nutrition security in Sub-Saharan Africa.
SOURCE: THE NATION